RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 23: Rafael Marquez of Mexico (R) celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Croatia and Mexico at Arena Pernambuco on June 23, 2014 in Recife, Brazil.

Late surge pushes Mexico past Croatia, into the knockout round

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Late goals from Rafa Márquez, Andrés Guardado, and Javier Hernández have shattered Croatia’s World Cup dreams and sent Mexico into a sixth straight knockout round. With goals in the 72nd and 75th minutes, Márquez and Guardado blew open a previously scoreless match, while late insurance from ‘Chicharito’ Hernández helped clinch second place in Group A with a 3-1 win in Recife.

An hour of even play slowly started to sway Mexico’s way with chances in the 64th and 69th minutes. Eighteen minutes from time, Márquez finally put his team on the scoreboard, heading home a Héctor Herrera corner to make it 1-0. Three minutes later, Guardado’s blast from the left of the Croatian area doubled the lead, while Hernández finished a 82nd minute corner to provide further insurance. After Ivan Persic found 87th minute consolation, Mexico had their two-goal win.

Hoping to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in 28 years, Mexico moves on to the final 16, facing the Netherlands on Sunday in Fortaleza. Croatia, with one win in three matches, end their 2014 World Cup third in Group A.

[ MORE: Neymar lifts Brazil | Dutch down Chile | Spain conquers Socceroos ]
[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

Even play over the first 45 minutes saw Mexico nearly take the lead twice in the first 20 minutes. Off a long-range shot in the 16th minute, Herrera nailed the upper-left hand corner of Stipe Pletikosa’s goal, while a ball played behind Croatia’s defense three minutes later left Oribe Peralta sprawled in the penalty area after the Mexican forward slipped while turning onto a close-range shot.

Come the hour mark, Mexico began to upset the game’s balance. In the 64th minute, a Guardado shot from the left of the area drew handball appeals as it went off Darijo Srna’s arms and out for a corner. Five minutes later, Pletikosa kicked out at a Herrera cross to prevent a ball from bouncing across his six-yard box. Come the 70th minute, Mexico had firmly established itself on the front foot.

In the 72nd minute, that advantage finally paid off. Off a Herrera corner from the left, Márquez was found at the edge of the six-yard box. Heading down and into goal, the veteran defender celebrated his fourth finals as captain with a breakthrough score, giving Mexico a 1-0 lead.

Three minutes later, Croatia’s back was broken. Shooting from nearly the spot where Srna denied him 11 minutes before, Guardardo finished high into the left of Pletikosa’s net, providing what proved the game-winning goal.

In the 82nd minute, Hernández snuck in at the far post to put home a corner flicked on by Márquez – a goal that was pulled back minutes later by Perisic’s finish into Guillermo Ochoa’s lower-right hand corner. When Ante Rebic was red carded in the 89th minute, Croatia’s hopes of a comeback were done.  Mexico would advance with their two-goal victory.

It was the most impressive performance yet from a Mexican side that continues to overshadow its qualifying mishaps. When the team take sthe field on Sunday in Fortaleza, they’ll do so having only conceded one meaningless goal through three group stage matches.

Whether that defense will be able to hold off the Dutch remains to be seen, but after strong performances against Brazil and Croatia, there’s reason to believe Mexico can do damage in the knockout round.

Lineups

Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaljko (Kovacic 58′); Modric, Pranjic (Jelavic 74′); Perisic, Rakitic, Olic (Rebic 69′), Mandzukic

Goals: Perisic 87′

Mexico: Ochoa; Aguilar, Rodríguez, Marquez, Moreno, Layún; Vazquez, Herrera, Guardado (Fabián 84′); Dos Santos (Hernández 62′), Peralta (Peña 79′)

Goals: Márquez 72′, Guardado 75′, Hernández 82′

CONCACAF Champions League gets reboot; MLS benefits

Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, right, clears the ball away from Club America midfielder Rubens Sambueza (14) during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer quarterfinal, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Changes to the CONCACAF Champions League will benefit Major League Soccer in a big way.

Long requested by MLS, the North American league will only have to send its clubs to the CCL for the final four rounds, which will be home-and-away affairs.

Previously, clubs competed in a group stage from August to October, then joined the knockout rounds in February.

[ MORE: Transfer window names to watch ]

While MLS sides may still be just starting their seasons and have to contend with clubs who have been playing meaningful games, they will also be less likely to draw successful Liga MX sides in the Round of 16.

All of the details are here, but here’s a simplified takeaway:

— The 16 teams that qualify for the CCL, which will begin in February, will include four U.S. teams, one Canadian team, and four Mexican teams.

— The next six sides will be the Caribbean Club Championship winner and the champions of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama.

— The remaining side will win its spot via a new tournament which includes 13 Central American teams and three from the Caribbean.

For those of us hoping to see an MLS side in the Club World Cup, the odds will become better come the 2018 CCL. As for this year, MLS will again have to deal with the split season.

Ten names to watch in Premier League transfer window

BERGAMO, ITALY - DECEMBER 11:  Franck Kessie of Atalanta BC in action during the Serie A match between Atalanta BC and Udinese Calcio at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia on December 11, 2016 in Bergamo, Italy.  (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)
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National team veterans from France, England, and Spain are in a 10-man mix of players we think could have big impacts on the fortunes of teams in the Premier League this January transfer window.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

10) Lassana Diarra, Marseille — Twice in London, the French-born midfielder is said to be interesting Manchester United and Valencia amongst others.

9) Leonardo Ulloa, Leicester City — The pressure doesn’t get to the Foxes’ 30-year-old striker, who has scored plenty of big goals for Leicester City. Might he be the perfect bench piece to push a team into the second half of the season? Spanish side Alaves have reportedly had a $2 million bid rejected by Leicester.

8) Phil Jagielka, Everton — Older, yes, but the English national team veteran could be just what the doctor-ordered for relegation candidates and lower-half sides looking for a PL-experienced CB.

7) Victor Lindelof, Benfica — His arrival at Old Trafford went from Tomorrowland to Lost in recent weeks, but Jose Mourinho could still act to bring in the center back before the summer.

6) Scott Hogan, Brentford — The Championship striker isn’t quite as prominent in the rumor mill as Jordan Rhodes was last season, but the 24-year-old could be a promising buy for a PL side. West Ham is said to have the inside track.

5) Goncalo Guedes, Benfica — As for Lindelof’s teammate, Guedes was tipped to join Manchester United with his center back. Will another side jump into the fray before Guedes joins Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford? Paris Saint-Germain is said to be interested.

4) Franck Kessie, Atalanta — The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals for his Serie A side, and has been the major reason for Atalanta’s run into the top half.

3) Robert Snodgrass, Hull City — The Scottish wizard has been a big part of what little success has come the Tigers way this season, but West Ham and several other Premier League sides are tempting Hull.

2) Alvaro Morata, Real Madrid — He starred for Juventus last season and triggered a Real Madrid return. Slowed by an Achilles injury for much of this season, he’s been tipped for a summer move to Chelsea. If it can happen then… why not now? The Blues could order the title confetti if they landed the Spanish striker.

1) Dimitri Payet, West Ham United — Yes, we’re tired of his act — and reading about it — but Payet is a game-changer who could inject excitement into any offense in the world. If Marseille wants him, it had better pay up.

Transfer rumor roundup: Man City after two backs; Zelalem to Holland?

NAPLES, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 17: Napolis player Faouzi Ghoulam vies with Bologna FC player Simone Verdi during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Bologna FC at Stadio San Paolo on September 17, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)
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Here are your transfer rumor headlines on a day when Gerard Deulofeu moves to AC Milan and Lazar Markovic heads to Hull City on loan.

[ MORE: Three players leave USMNT camp ]

Two Premier Leaguers could be heading down to help the Championship leaders. Newcastle United is said to be close to bringing Andros Townsend back from Crystal Palace after just a half-season, while Swansea City’s Mo Barrow is also on Rafa Benitez‘s radar.

An Arsenal blog says USMNT prospect Gedion Zelalem may have found his loan destination. The 19-year-old could be leaving the Emirates Stadium for a loan stint at VVV Venlo, with the Dutch side sitting first in the second tier and in a promotion push.

The Manchester Evening News brings reports of two backs on the radar of Manchester City. Rai Sport is the source for Man City’s interest in Napoli left back Faouzi Ghoulam, who has six assists in 21 appearances for Partenopei between Serie A and the UEFA Champions League. Pep Guardiola may also want to be reunited with Juan Bernat, though that story comes from the wild swings of The Daily Mirror.

Sunderland is going to lose one of its two brightest lights in a dark, dismal season. The Black Cats have taken a lot of calls on Jermain Defoe, but it’s Patrick Van Aanholt who is on the move to rejoin Sam Allardyce at Crystal Palace. The Dutch standout is said to be purchased for $15 million, and would be the equivalent of a transfer six-pointer in the Premier League’s relegation race.

Report: West Ham turns down another Payet bid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14:  The Dimitri Payet of West Ham United sign is seen outside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between West Ham United and Crystal Palace at London Stadium on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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West Ham United has rejected a third bid for wantaway midfielder Dimitri Payet, according to Sky Sports.

Marseille upped the ante to $28 million when it comes to the French midfielder, who has said he wants to go back to the club for “family reasons“.

[ MORE: Three players leave USMNT camp ]

Payet was given a $1.2 million loyalty bonus from West Ham earlier this season, but has continually tempted the rumor mill. He’s also winked at Arsenal.

He has 15 goals in parts of two seasons with the Irons, the same figure he boasted in two full years with Marseille. Payet has also played Lille, Saint-Etienne, Nantes, and AS Excelsior.

It’s been a rocky month for Payet, who could be doomed to purgatory at West Ham. Will any Premier League suitors come calling at the Irons’ $38 million asking price.